Pope allows earlier conclave - Vatican

VATICAN CITY (UPDATED) – The Vatican said Monday, February 25, that Pope Benedict XVI, who resigns on Thursday, February 28, has signed a special decree giving cardinals "the possibility to bring forward" a conclave to elect his successor.

"I leave the College of Cardinals the possibility to bring forward the start of the conclave once all cardinals are present, or push the beginning of the election back by a few days should there be serious reasons," the Pope said.

The Apostolic Constitution promulgated in 1996 by Benedict's predecessor, the late pope John Paul II, states the conclave must begin between 15 and 20 days after the start of the popeless "Sede Vacante" ("Vacant Seat") interregnum, usually after the death of a pope.

The delay is normally to allow time for cardinals from around the world to gather in Rome following the death of a pope and to organize the funeral.

The period of mourning is normally set at 9 days. 

Benedict XVI is the first pontiff to resign in around 600 years, citing his "incapacity to adequately fulfill" the ministry entrusted to him.

On Sunday, February 24, he delivered an emotional last Sunday prayer, saying God had told him to devote himself to quiet contemplation but assuring he would not "abandon" the Church.

"The Lord is calling me to climb the mountain, to dedicate myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church," the pope said from the window of his residence in the Vatican, his voice breaking with emotion."If God is asking me to do this it is precisely so I can continue to serve with the same dedication and love as before but in a way that is more appropriate for my age and for my strength." – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com